Rebels say deal struck on evacuation of civilians, opposition fighters; US calls for international observers for exit of non-combatants

December 13, 2016, 10:02 pm

Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations said Tuesday all military action in eastern Aleppo has ended and the Syrian government has re-established control over the former rebel-held area.

Vitaly Churkin spoke Tuesday near the end of an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, saying “according to the latest information that we received in the last hour, military actions in eastern Aleppo are over.”

He said that as a result, “there is no issue of some cessation of hostilities, or some special humanitarian operation.” He added that “the Syrian government has re-established control over eastern Aleppo.”

The Associated Press was not immediately able to confirm that the fighting had stopped or that all the rebels had surrendered.

Churkin said earlier that “all militants” and members of their families, as well as those wounded in the fighting, “currently are going through agreed corridors in directions that they have chosen themselves voluntarily, including toward Idlib,” a rebel stronghold.

A general view shows destroyed buildings in Aleppo's Sheikh Saeed district, on December 12, 2016, after Syrian pro-government forces retook the area from rebel fighters. (AFP PHOTO / GEORGE OURFALIAN)

A general view shows destroyed buildings in Aleppo’s Sheikh Saeed district, on December 12, 2016, after Syrian pro-government forces retook the area from rebel fighters. (AFP PHOTO / GEORGE OURFALIAN)

The evacuation of the remaining rebels would mark a major victory for President Bashar Assad and return Syria’s largest city to full government control for the first time since rebels seized the eastern half in 2012.

An agreement has been reached on the imminent evacuation of civilians and opposition fighters from east Aleppo in Syria, a rebel official told AFP on Tuesday.

The United States on Tuesday called for international observers to be sent to Aleppo to oversee the evacuation of civilians, following reports that Syrian forces had executed people during house-to-house searches.

“An agreement has been reached for the evacuation of the residents of Aleppo, civilians and fighters with their light weapons, from the besieged districts of east Aleppo,” said Yasser al-Youssef from the political office of the key Nurredin al-Zinki group.

He said the deal was “sponsored by Russia and Turkey” and would be implemented “within hours.”

US Ambassador Samantha Power told an emergency Security Council meeting that the observers would “oversee the safe evacuation of the people who wish to leave but who, justifiably fear that if they try, they will be shot in the street or carted off to one of Assad’s gulags.”

It wasn’t clear if the evacuation agreement included the international observers Power called for.

United States Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power during a United Nations Security Council emergency meeting on the situation in Syria, at the UN in New York, September 25, 2016. (AFP/Bryan R. Smith)

United States Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power during a United Nations Security Council emergency meeting on the situation in Syria, at the UN in New York, September 25, 2016. (AFP/Bryan R. Smith)

The deal comes one month into a Syrian army operation to recapture all of east Aleppo, which rebels had held since 2012.

The rebels were confined to just a small pocket of territory in the south of their former bastion, and tens of thousands of civilians have already fled former opposition territory during the offensive.

“The first stage will be the evacuation of civilians and wounded, within hours, and afterwards fighters will leave with their light weapons,” Youssef added.

The deal stipulates those leaving will be allowed to choose whether to go to rebel-held territory in west Aleppo province or to neighboring Idlib province.

A member of the Syrian government forces stands in a severely damaged street in Aleppo's newly captured Al-Kalasseh neighborhood in the eastern part of the war torn city on December 13, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / George OURFALIAN)

A member of the Syrian government forces stands in a severely damaged street in Aleppo’s newly captured Al-Kalasseh neighborhood in the eastern part of the war torn city on December 13, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / George OURFALIAN)

Times Of Israel

A source in the powerful Ahrar al-Sham rebel group also confirmed the deal, saying civilians and then fighters would be evacuated on buses to either western Aleppo province or Idlib.

Idlib province, in northwest Syria, is almost completely controlled by a powerful rebel alliance known as the Army of Conquest.

Ahmed Ramadan, an official with the political opposition National Coalition, also confirmed a deal had been reached.

“There is an agreement and we look forward to its application with the exit of civilians first,” he said.